Residents of Tel Aviv 'squatters' on their own land

Gerrard Winstanley office at
Sat Jul 21 00:37:51 BST 2007

Suddenly they are called 'squatters'
By Meron Rapoport
In 1949 the Harazi and Maoudeh families were moved into the same
building in the village of Salameh, which became the Kfar Shalem
neighborhood in South Tel Aviv overnight. The contracts the heads of
the families signed with the Custodian of Absentee Property testify
that the Jewish Agency sent them to Salameh after they had immigrated
from Yemen. The documents also indicate that they moved into the
abandoned Arab house legally and with permission. Nevertheless, unless
something extraordinary happens, they will be evicted at the beginning
of this week, together with another 30 families, who live in the area
between Mahal Street and Moshe Dayan Street. None of them will receive

This eviction-without-compensation received a legal seal of approval
from the Supreme Court, after it was determined that the land on which
the families are living is privately owned. While the Mahal-Moshe
Dayan area is perhaps an extreme case, it is but another stage in the
bitter battle many inhabitants of Kfar Shalem have been waging, for
several decades already, to receive suitable compensation for being
evicted from their old homes in the neighborhood. The authorities
argue that the evacuation is aimed at improving the neighborhood. But
the residents find it hard to shake off the feeling that the state,
which sent them to the village in order to prevent its Palestinian
inhabitants from returning, is now sloughing them off.

This feeling was reinforced two weeks ago, when the government decided
that inhabitants of moshavim (cooperative agricultural villages), who
had received lands intended for agricultural purposes from the state
in the past - without having to pay for these lands - can now build on
them and sell them. Simply put, had the Harazi and Maoudeh families
been residents of a moshav, their status would have been different.
But they are merely inhabitants of a poor neighborhood in South Tel
Aviv and after living here for nearly 60 years, they have now been
defined as squatters whose fate is eviction.

The Israel Land Administration (ILA), Amidar (the National Housing
Corporation) and Halamish (the government corporation responsible for
clearing Kfar Shalem) define the inhabitants of the Mahal-Moshe Dayan
area first and foremost as "squatters." Explaining the difference
between Kfar Shalem and the kibbutzim and moshavim, the ILA's Eli
Moran says, "They settled the kibbutzim and the moshavim on the
frontier. These neighborhoods were not frontier zones. The state just
wanted to give those immigrants a roof over their heads. Who was
thinking about rights at that time?" Therefore, he says, the ILA is
entitled to sell the lands to private entrepreneurs without
regularizing the rights of the people who are living there now. "The
contracts state that the buyer must evacuate the inhabitants, but it
doesn't say how and the amount of compensation to which those who are
holding the land are entitled is also not specified."

Don't you have a problem with the buyer evicting the residents without

"This isn't our business. This is the contractors' problem."

When the State of Israel was established, Salameh was one of the
largest villages in the Jaffa area. Its lands stretched as far as the
environs of the old central bus station. The village's 7,000
inhabitants included many of Jaffa's wealthy families, who had built
houses in Salameh. Inhabitants of the nearby Hatikvah Quarter have
told Effi Banai, a native of Kfar Shalem who is making a documentary
film about the area's history, that their neighborhood was fired upon
from the direction of Salameh when fighting broke out in 1948.
Therefore, when the rumor spread that the inhabitants of Salameh had
fled, the inhabitants of the Hatikvah Quarter rejoiced.

The Palestinian inhabitants of the abandoned village were quickly
replaced by 20,000 Jews, some of them refugees from the battle zones,
most of them immigrants from Yemen. The new neighborhood was
overcrowded, there were no paved roads and no sewage system. Most of
the people who settled in Kfar Shalem worked in agriculture. The
institutions of the Jewish Agency, the Histadrut labor federation and
the Tel Aviv municipality wanted to find housing solutions for the
immigrants but they also wanted to seize the area to avoid the Arabs
coming back to a place located so close to the big city.

"It was a mitzvah [a good deed] to settle this place," says Miriam
Harazi, who recalled how she had evicted an Arab woman from Jaffa, who
had offered to sell her home to her. The state wanted the remnants of
Arab Salameh to disappear and for a new neighborhood to arise in their
stead. It was for this reason that the evacuation-compensation law for
Kfar Shalem was legislated in 1965 and the densely populated
neighborhood began to disappear. There have been ups and downs in the
process of evacuating the inhabitants who live in the old houses. One
of the low points occurred in December 1982, when a policeman shot and
killed an inhabitant of the neighborhood who had tried to prevent his
home from being demolished. The high points occurred at the beginning
of the 1990s, when hundreds of families were moved out and given
generous compensation.

Too generous, they are now saying at Halamish. "Check why the ILA
froze the project in 1996 and look into its controller's reports on
the subject," says Halamish Director General Eitan Padan. In recent
years relations between Padan and the inhabitants of Kfar Shalem have
been murky, to say the least. About a month ago, after Halamish sent
orders to dozens of inhabitants ahead of their forcible eviction, the
Knesset Finance Committee discussed the issue at the initiative of MKs
Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Moshe Kahlon (Likud). One of the more moderate
accusations the inhabitants have made against Padan is that he is "too
big for his britches" and that the company he manages is "corrupt."

Padan, a public figure, does not conceal his hostility toward the
inhabitants and says the neighborhood committee is trying "to extort
money from the public coffers." He does acknowledge that among the
hundreds of inhabitants slated for eviction there is a "group" that is
acting reasonably. But he says that "as long as there have been
certain other elements fanning expectations, the evacuation process
has been encountering violence."

The inhabitants of Kfar Shalem say Padan is betraying his public
responsibility. Their stance, which they back up with documents, is
that in 2004 Halamish secretly set harsher criteria for giving
compensation to evacuees, contrary to previous decisions by the ILA.
The secretary of the neighborhood committee, Aharon Maduel, says that
no one has the authority to change the criteria the ILA had decided
upon and therefore Padan and Halamish have lost their moral and legal
authority to operate in the neighborhood. Padan admits that the
criteria have become harsher but he claims this move was undertaken in
accordance with ILA instructions. At the ILA they were in fact
surprised this week by the change in criteria. "Only the ILA board is
allowed to set criteria and not any other body," said the ILA spokeswoman.

In any case, Padan says that during the two years he has been working
as director general, only 15 of the 400 families that live in the
areas slated for demolition have been evicted and compensated. This
although the ILA determined in 2004 that 200 families would have been
evacuated by the end of 2006. Maduel accuses Halamish of dragging its
feet and making insulting offers to the inhabitants, so the matter
will go to the courts. According to him, "They want to exhaust us and
show us that if we don't accept their conditions, we will end up like
the inhabitants of Mahal-Moshe Dayan, without compensation."

Halamish has nothing to do with the expected eviction of the 30
families living in that area. The courts, which have ruled that the
inhabitants should be evicted without compensation, have determined
that this is not a matter of squatters but rather of offspring of the
immigrants who settled there when the state was established. The
problem with these families is of another nature: The judges decided
that the state had given them an area it had never owned and that the
land is privately owned. Therefore the inhabitants are not protected
tenants and there is no obligation to compensate them.

This ruling is strange. As noted, Salameh was an Arab village and
therefore it was possible to assume that all its property was
transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property after the
Palestinians left. But in this case the judges accepted the argument
of the owner of the parcel of land, Ruma Efrati, to the effect that
the lands were not confiscated in 1948 because they belonged to a
British investor who was not considered an absentee. However, the
court ruled that the 30 families who lived on this particular portion
of land all those years were simply sold from hand to hand, together
with the land, until they came into Efrati's hands - like vassals in
the Middle Ages. The ILA has told Haaretz this week that at least one
of the plots the court determined was always privately owned had been
in state hands and was sold to private hands in the 1950s, with the
tenants on it.

The affair becomes stranger still when one considers that some of the
families living in the area have been paying rent for years to Amidar
- a government company in every respect - and have nevertheless been
issued eviction orders. How did Amidar tenants come into the hands of
private landowners? Is this a mistake or did Amidar sell the land with
the protected tenants on it? The inhabitants relate that Amidar
officials had told them that the rent had been charged by mistake and
that it would be returned to them. However, this week the chairman of
Amidar, Doron Cohen, was surprised to learn of this. "If it turns out
that they have been paying rent for 60 years by mistake, we will stand
behind them, because they are clients of ours," he says.

Dr. Sandy Kedar, a lawyer who teaches at Haifa University and is
active in the Israel Association for Distributive Justice, says that
if one adopts a narrow view, it is possible to agree with the
magistrates' court's decision that ruled that the inhabitants should
not be compensated. However, he says, "If you look at what is
happening in Kfar Shalem and compare it to, for example, Kibbutz Galil
Yam, then it is possible to argue that this is a discriminatory policy
that verges on illegality."

Kedar notes the government decision of two weeks ago: "This is a gift
of about a million dollars to every owner of an estate in the
moshavim, even if we deduct the payments to the state for the use of
the lands." Padan, it should be said, angrily rejects the comparison
between the worsening of the conditions for the inhabitants of Kfar
Shalem and the improvement in conditions for the moshavim and
kibbutzim. Kedar adds that the Kfar Shalem story embodies the
"ethnic-class injustice" on which Israel is built: Arabs whose lands
were confiscated, moshavim and kibbutzim that transformed those lands
into a gold mine, neighborhoods populated by Mizrahi immigrants (Jews
from the Muslim countries) whom the state is disowning after having
used them upon its establishment, and an accelerated process of

"Those poor Ashkenazim," (Jews of European origin) says Miriam Harazi,
as she displays yellowing documents to prove that the crumbling piece
of land has been her home for the past 60 years. "They suffered so
much from anti-Semitism in Europe. Why are they taking it out on us?" 


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